Cowgirls display resilience

<p class="p1">After winning back-to-back Southland Conference regular-season titles and four out of the last five years, the McNeese State softball team’s hopes of winning a third consecutive crown dwindled quickly after losing both games of a doubleheader to Stephen F. Austin on Saturday.</p><p class="p1">Now, trailing by two wins to SLC leader Nicholls State, the Cowgirls will need some help in order to win that honor again.</p><p class="p1">It’s been an odd, up-and-down season and head coach James Landrenaeu has pointed to multiple parts of the season as wake-up calls.</p><p class="p1">First it was a shaky performance in the Southern Miss Black and Gold Tournament in which the Cowgirls struggled to compete against Top 25 teams like Baylor and Alabama. They responded by defeating then-No. 9 Florida State and dominated the Eastern Michigan Madeira Beach Spring Invitational with five wins in three days.</p><p class="p1">McNeese received its second wake-up call a couple weeks later when it got swept by Central Arkansas in its first SLC series.</p><p class="p1">The Cowgirls started 0-4 in league play, something few if any people considered to be a possibility entering the season.</p><p class="p1">Once again, the Cowgirls responded, winning every series after opening weekend until traveling to SFA, and even picking up a win against then-No. 16 Baylor on the road.</p><p class="p1">Now Landreneau said he hopes to see another surge in success after McNeese may have taken itself out of the regular-season title race.</p><p class="p1">But it’s not the regular-season title the Cowgirls should be worried about. That one doesn’t get you into the NCAA Tournament.</p><p class="p1">The Cowgirls have clinched a spot in the SLC Tournament, but how they perform against Southeastern Louisiana this weekend could well determine their seeding, as seeds No. 1 through 7 are all mathematically in play for McNeese.</p><p class="p1">A successful weekend would likely lead to at least one bye in the eight-team tournament, and a poor performance could lead to them having to battle the through the toughest road possible to earn a place in the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year.</p><p class="p1">The good news is the Cowgirls will play at home as the SLC Tournament will take place at Cowgirl Diamond. More good news: most if not all of them will be finished with final exams, meaning they won’t have to worry about school as they play in the bracket that determines their fate.</p><p class="p1">The bad news is an at-large bid is all but officially out of play. The Cowgirls played a tougher schedule than normal this season in an attempt to raise their RPI stock, and it worked early in the season.</p><p class="p1">The Cowgirls were nationally ranked twice after never breaking into a national Top 25 poll prior to this season.</p><p class="p1">But the sweep at the hands of the Sugar Bears all but eliminated them from contention in those polls and now they are No. 48 in the RPI rankings.</p><p class="p1">That’s more than respectable for a team in a conference like the SLC, whose next highest ranked team is Nicholls State at No. 93, but it’s not good enough to earn an at-large bid in the tournament.</p><p class="p1">It doesn’t help when there are also programs like Missouri, which are going as far as to pay buyouts and change their schedules in order to ensure they maintain a record over .500 and remain eligible for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament, effectively attempting to steal at-large bids from teams that would have an eligible record with their original schedule.</p><p class="p1">But that’s a moot point if you’re McNeese.</p><p class="p1">The Cowgirls frankly have to take care of business in order to reach their goals. They came into this season hoping to not only reach a regional but play competitive softball in hopes of reaching a super regional. Now they find themselves in an eight-day fight for their lives.</p><p class="p1">But Landreneau and the Cowgirls don’t seem to mind having their backs against the wall. They’ve felt that way several times this season and responded appropriately.</p><p class="p1">Plus, it’s definitely fun for the fans. The SLC has had more parody this season than it’s ever had, and that will undoubtedly be on display next week at the SLC Tournament.</p><p class="p1">But it’s doubtful that McNeese cares too much about how much fun it is. The Cowgirls have their eyes on one goal. Now it’s time to see if they can achieve it.</p>